Tonight I sit at a long table in Starbucks, sipping a too-hot coffee and highlighting my copy of Jürgen Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life. I finished my class readings this morning so I could spend some time crafting my Master’s thesis, which I’m writing largely on this book. Moltmann is a contemporary German theologian (he’s still alive) with an interesting life story, and this particular book is about pneumatology – the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
I come to a part that reads,
“Because God lets [God’s] Spirit rest on [God’s] messiah, the messiah ‘will bring forth justice to the nations’ (Isaiah 42.1), and when ‘the Spirit is poured out from on high…then justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness abide in the fruitful field, and the fruit of righteousness will be peace’ (Isaiah 32.15ff). This means in the first place that the God who in [God’s] almighty power created heaven and earth is on the side of the people who have to suffer violence because they cannot defend themselves. Their rights are [God’s] divine concern. … God is the justice of the unjustly treated, just as [God] is the power of the powerless.”
I swallow hard. This doesn't make sense to me. My gut asks, Can we be explicit about this? Or does it necessarily imply that God is more in favor of those who suffer? Because if that's the case, it would mean that God is less in favor of those who cause the suffering – who are equally a part of God's creation. I don't think this is possible of God. This smacks of mortal construction, not divine.
I put my conundrum on Twitter. Several of my friends in seminary respond. They write, invariably:
- " “I don’t think I would say God is more on their side, but instead acts differently.”
- “I think we can be explicit about that statement and not be exclusive.”
- “I think it's because those who can defend themselves don't need God to defend them. If they did, they would have God.”
- “Maybe there’s an important difference between ‘on the side of’ and ‘favoring.’
My question remains unanswered. These responses don’t satisfy the root of what’s troubling me – that God could, or would, differentiate between us, the mystifyingly complicated little orbs of light that God created. How could God quantify the suffering of someone against the suffering of someone else, who in our eyes might look like the agent of suffering…when really they’re suffering, too?
I keep reading. Moltmann continues, “The suffering, tormented and murdered Christ is on the side of the victims, not the agents.” This gives me such an AHA! moment, because you’re wrong, Moltmann. God is too on the side of the agents, whether we like it or not. God may not be in the torture or the murder, but God is in the person; the Holy Spirit doesn’t pick-and-choose.
I think we envisage God as our justice and power because it gives us hope, and without it, how could we possibly persevere? But we’re shortchanging ourselves with this image, and we are sure as hell shortchanging God with it. As Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Because we can’t say that Jesus is “against” the agents of torture doesn’t mean we can say He’s for them; it means we have to say that there is so much more at play than we can understand. Grace would be so cheap if it were only allotted to those who deserve it (and believe me, if I could dole it out, Ann Coulter would be left off the list). But we all get it, every one of us, including those people who cause suffering and siphon power from the already-powerless, even though sometimes it doesn’t make a lick of sense. And that, my dear readers, is why more than 2,000 years after the death of Christ, some four and a half billion years after the dawn of time, all of us are still talking about and reading about and writing about and arguing about God. These answers are elusive for a reason. How lucky are we that they are?
After I published my post, I found this post, and I think Marika is hitting at the same things I'm trying to say, so if my thoughts don't make sense, maybe hers do.
An old friend (who's also seminary-educated) just tweeted back at me, saying, "No way God plays favorites. Jesus was just as concerned with Nicodemus' problems and the wealthy man's as the sick and outcasts' struggles." Amen, buddy, amen. <3